One of the most powerful aspects of twitter for journalists is the retweet. The retweet is when someone who follows you reads your tweet and thinks it’s worth tweeting again.
Usually when people retweet, they will type RT or Retweet in their twitter filed and then repeat what was tweeted.
Why is the valuable? I’ll use an example to explain.
Caroline Kennedy came to my hometown in Upstate New York today to make a pitch to local elected officials that she’d be a great support for our area if Gov. David Paterson appoints her to the post. (Kennedy is seeking the position U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton will vacate when she becomes President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state.)
Caroline visited Syracuse early today, and our Web site posted an audio clip and a short story soon afterward that described how she refused to answer any reporters’ questions while she was here.
I was working, read the story, found it disturbing and tweeted to my 700 or so followers. Soon afterward, one of my followers retweeted to his 1,400 odd followers. And then one of his followers retweeted to her 260 followers.
Then anothe one of my followers retweeted it to his 112 followers. Then USA Today’ s On Politics blog, blogged about what happened and linked to my newspaper’s Web site’s story, and tweeted that to its 570 followers.
Then a guy who works at my newspaper’s Web site tweeted about what happened to his 171 followers. I don’t know if anyone retweeted his tweet.
(You can actually watch all this happen in real time at a site called twitscoop. You go in and pop in a keyword, and you can see who is tweeting about what, and it updates as more tweets comes. It’s great tool for judging whether a topic is hot.)
So by a conservative estimate, two tweets by journalists — my colleague and me — that took about two seconds of our time potentially reached nearly 3,000 people in less than 20 minutes. That doesn’t mean all 3,000 read the tweet, went to the link or were even online at the time.
But the potential for this tool is awesome.
Imagine if we actually harnessed it in a more deliberate way? Imagine if more than two of were using twitter this way? Imagine if all of us were, reaching our respective niches quickly? That’s a lot of potential audience.
Now, you may wonder, why does it matter for all those folks, many of whom don’t live in my community, to read the story? Well, if us journalists want to stay employed as journalists, our newspapers’ Web sites need to make money. And the more people who read these sites, the more potential they have to do that.
The window of twitter’s power is narrow. You must tweet immediately, so you’re the one setting the tone and your tweets — and not someone else’s on the same topic – get retweeted. You also must have a lot of followers for tweeting to do any good; and you need to pick your followers wisely, so you get maximum advantage if they retweet. (Obviously, it’s better from a retweet perspective to have a follower with 1,000 retweet your tweet than one with 10, but you also want followers whose followers are likely interested in your original tweet.)
Twitter isn’t a medium where you can delay. It’s instant, and, I think, it’s potential for journalists isn’t even close to being tapped. As we use, I believe we’ll come with more ways to use it.